23 September 2015

How to season a meen chatti\mannchatti|How to season a cooking claypot at home|How to take care of claypots

 "Our admiration of the antique is not admiration of the old, but of the natural." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Have you ever wondered, why our grandparents even in 70s and 80s  (in India) are comparatively healthy,energetic and enthusiastic than us- our generation ?? My granny ,ammamma,is 5 times active than my amma and 10 times active than me !!

Well,as I always say, there is always a good and bad side to everything.Likewise,as technology advanced so did us,our lifestyle,our thoughts,our values ...and even though all developments have improvised our life ,made it easy and smooth comparatively to primitive times ,I believe that it also has a bad impact on our food,health ,our lifestyle too .

During old times,foods were prepared using fresh ingredients in earthen wares .During those times no one cared about losing weight or dieting etc ,all that mattered was eating a hearty meal thrice a day . 

No one feared of the consequence because they all worked hard on their foot,every parts of their body was at work . Early men were busy hunting foods,some were busy making earthen wares as cooking utensils or for hunting or for building a hut etc ; they were physically damn active . When it came to King's rule,king's lavish lifestyles never affected their well being as they were busy practicing different kinds of fighting arts like martial arts,bows-arrows etc that kept them active,strong,healthy and prajas/disciples, were living an ordinary content life accepting all life's challenges related to "Roti,kapada,aur Makaan"/ "Bread,clothes,home". So,were Indian farmers who  are still struggling ,yet carrying out farming practices in conventional ways.

Women would make (time consuming) freshly ground flours , batter , butter etc at home than relying on any ready-made items or on any cooking aids or man made machines- like mixer-grinder,microwaves,dishwasher,washing machine etc for that matter. They broomed , mopped their house,cleaned utensils,washed clothes etc all by themselves .

There were no gyms - treadmills,ellipticals and not required ,to keep one fit .No food substitutes were preferred, everything was used or savored in its natural state ,as it is, filled with fats,sugar,calories.So,there was a time when people worked their butt off to earn their livelihood and live it as simple yet satisfying as possible...Even though their life was not that easy ,they were pretty healthy and less prone to diseases ....

Though ,at times, my laziness, would thank all inventions that made our life easy,when it comes to health ,I am concerned !!!

Recently ,my mother was saying, how one of our neighbor uncle got advanced stage lung cancer and his doctor advised his wife to cook foods only in earthen pots as they were safe and healthier than other cookwares.Since, my mother does all these pongalas for her favorite diety,Durga maa ,she has a collection of claypots/mann chatti at home, neatly decorated as show piece items in her garden .My muslim neighbor aunty came home and asked, if she can have a few claypots for cooking and amma gave her happily ,hoping it would help in uncle's recovery somehow.Unfortunately,it was too late ; we are not yet thaaat advanced to treat cancer 100%..Sigh! So,he passed away last year .May his soul rest in peace ! 

Amma was also saying that all our neighbors and relatives are ditching all other cookwares made of aluminum,steel or coated with glaze ,enamel etc for claypots as those cookwares are chemically treated and are reactive ,meaning while cooking in high heat especially,the chemicals from these materials leach back into our food and when we take that food,it may badly impact our digestive system which then can hamper bodies core functioning. :((

Importance of cooking in a clay pot :
  1. Most of the essential nutrients and vitamins are retained in the foods cooked in the claypot.
  2. Clay is a natural material, alkaline in nature which aids in neutralizing the pH balance of the food by interacting with the acid present in the food. So it is safe ,healthy unlike other cookwares.
  3. Food cooks evenly and becomes intense and flavorful.

Thank God ,in Kerala,we still make fish curries or seafood curries and more, especially in an earthen pot called,"Meen chatti"/"mann chatti".It no doubt,renders one-of-a-kind ; earthy ,simple yet homely flavor to anything cooked in the chatti. Thanks to amma ,she bought me one for sure ,before I left India after marriage.At that time, I was not fully aware of it's importance in many ways.So,the claypot amma gave me was a small one which she kept inside a big one (*idea was mine* wink ) and wrapped well with layers of bubble wraps .By the time,I reached US,my fear came true ; the large one broke but the little one survived.I thought of buying another one in US as a backup someday.I simply admired the simplicity and versatility of this earthen pot !

Little did I know,in US,these non-fancy,simple earthen claypots are like exotic cookwares .Nothing less than any antiques !! They were not easily available and much sought after by Mallus/Malayalees especially.

Recently,to my utter surprise,I found one in an Indian store.I didn't think twice and bought it right away. I made something in it after washing well, but it smelled and tasted like paint,chalk-y.I threw the curry completely. So,tring tring called up my help desk person in Kerala,my mother and asked the reason and she said that before using the chatti,the claypot,I must season or cure it properly ,which not only ensures tasty ,healthy food but also, it will strengthen the pots and make it more durable . (The one she gave me was seasoned by her already but I had no clue and she forgot to tell me that. :| )

So,this is how my mom ,grandma ,they season or cure a claypot or meen chatti at home. There are 2 methods and the first one is the most preferred one . A claypot can be considered fully seasoned after many uses,that is why these methods are done for a few days....

I also found these methods that I think I may try in future according to the situation ,as required :

  1. According to bramcookware.com,soak the claypot in water for 2 hrs,then dry,rub all over the claypot with a glove of cut garlic and coat any unglazed surface especially the bottom with olive oil.Then fill the pot with 3/4 full of water and place it on a gentle flame with a heat diffuser .Let it simmer for 2 hours,making sure it doesn't boil dry.After that claypot is seasoned and ready to use. 
  2. According to Wikipedia to cure a claypot,make a broth of rice or wheat flour ,water and cooking oil and bring to a full boil.
  3. According to ehow.com to season a claypot,soak the claypot in water for 2 hours.Blot dry,wipe the unglazed surfaces with olive oil.Fill 3/4th of it with water,cover it with its lid .Place it in the center rack of the "cold" oven and turn the heat to 225 degree (no preheating at all)..Allow it to bake for 2-3 hours .Turn off the heat and let it cool off in the oven itself.

There are actually two types of claypots - Glazed clay pots and unglazed claypots. For cooking purpose,unglazed pots should be food safe and lead or chemical free and if glazed, it should be only at the bottom, which makes it easier to clean and prevent cracking .

To obtain the best results of cooking in a claypot ,it mainly depends upon their use and how you  maintain these claypots at home. So,here are the points to remember to take care of the claypots or meen chattis at home.

DOs and DON'Ts to remember :
  • The first time when you use the clay pot, soak the clay pot overnight in the sink with very lukewarm water plus 1/4th cup of baking soda added to it. Then next day,wash in warm water, using a brush or a non-metallic scrubbing pad. Same method can be used especially after cooking fish or foods with strong flavors.
  • Never use any abrasive cleansers or scrubbers to clean your clay pot. It will decrease the effect of the seasoning/curing .So,if the food begins to stick to your clay pot, season it again. If you use your clay pot frequently, maintain it, by curing it once or twice a year. 
  • The clay pot and lid (if any) must be soaked in water for at least 20 minutes before using. 
  • After using,wait for the clay pot to cool off completely and then wash it in warm water with a drop of dish washing liquid and rinse well twice or thrice ,as clay pots can absorb the chemicals from the dish washing liquid and leach back to food while cooking. 
  • Never put the clay pot in the dishwasher. Sudden change in temperature may crack the pot eventually and the excessive dishwashing liquid used ,will clog the pores of the clay pot. 
  • Never put a clay pot in a preheated oven as it will crack from the shock of the heat from the oven. 
  • Do not place a hot clay pot on a cold or cool surface , it will crack. 
  • On stove,increase the heat gradually (within a window of 5 minutes) and only go up to medium heat. 
  • High heat or any drastic change in temperature can cause cracking or breaking.

So,cooking claypots or meen chattis are not that simple as they look.It needs to be pampered,loved ,cared and then for sure,it'll show its love forever .

And I'll also remind myself every now and then as Daphne Oz said ,"Everyone has their own definition of a healthy lifestyle, and mine has come to mean making health a priority but not an obsession. "

My friends often ask me where can they purchase meen chatti or cooking claypots from ,so ,likewise,if anyone wants to purchase as well ,please check in Indian stores especially Kerala stores in your area, otherwise they are also available online here :
 1.Clay Curry Pot - Large - 9 Inch
 2.Clay Curry Pot - Medium - 8 Inch

Eat,love,live DELICIOUSLY,